Skies By Africa

Images of the Heavens By Eric Africa

Sharpless 173, the "Phantom of the Opera" Nebula

Listening to the soundtrack of the musical "Phantom of the Opera", I've often thought about the lyrics of the song "Music of the Night" in the context of astronomy:

Picture this: it's twilight, the sun is setting, stars are shyly shining through the growing darkness. Slowly, but surely...

"Slowly, gently night unfurls it's splendour
Grasp it, sense it, tremulous and tender
Turn your face away from the garish light of day
Turn your thoughts away from cold unfeeling light
And listen to the music of the night"

That passage almost seems to speak to astronomers as they anticipate the thrills of seeing the wonders of the heavens slowly unveiled in the sky above them. Night slowly falls, sunlight fades aways, stars, planets and DSO's coyly reveal themselves in the growing darkness. The "Music of the Night" calls to astronomers not so much audibly but visually as the beauty of the heavens are revealed regardless of the viewing aids used: the Milky Way from a dark sky site, larger open star clusters in binoculars,
deep sky objects with larger telescopes.

In the story of the "Phantom of the Opera", the Phantom approaches the leading lady as an Angel of Music who trains her and grooms her into an opera star. Interestingly enough, there appears to be an "Angel of the Music of the Night" in the heavens acting as a muse to the astronomers on earth below.

OK, this is just another case of Pareidolia, but hey, where's the fun in saying "just another cloud in the sky?"

I present to you Sharpless 173, the 173rd entry in Stewart Sharpless' catalog of ionized glowing hydrogen gas. Its resemblance to a certain Broadway musical character has given it the nickname "Phantom of the Opera Nebula".

This object is very, very faint. Some nebulae that I've shot show great detail through my color filters. This particular object just barely shows up in my red data even with an hour's total exposure time. Most of the details visible in the main nebula were captured using a narrow-band Hydrogen-alpha filter. As with most such nebulae, Sharpless 173 is associated with star-forming regions and will disappear over time as the stars born in or around it blow its gases away.

In the meantime, let us enjoy this object as we ponder upon the Music of the Night.
Constellation: Cassiopeia
When Visible: August-January
Distance: approximately 8,000 light-years
Date: October - December 2013
Location: Rancho Hidalgo, Animas, NM
Exposure Details:
H-alpha: 23 x 30 Minutes Binned 1x1
R: 6 x 10 Minutes Binned 1x1
G: 6 x 10 Minutes Binned 1x1
B: 6 x 10 Minutes Binned 1x1

14.5 Hours total exposure time
Equipment Used:  Takahashi FSQ-106N on an Astro-Physics AP1200GTO mount. SBIG STL-11000 camera with 5-position filter wheel and Astrodon filters. Robofocus focuser. Externally guided with an SBIG Remote Guide Head on a Borg 50mm refractor.
Acquisition Software : MaximDL, TheSky6, CCDAutopilot
Processing Software: MaximDL, Photoshop CS5, HLVG, Astro Actions by Noel Carboni, IrFanView